In April, when you visit the NCMA’s new restaurant, you won’t have to take a break from the art—instead, you’ll be dining amongst it. Artist Patrick Dougherty is creating an installation specifically for the restaurant that brings the outdoors in with unique sculptural forms created from young tree saplings. Using branches and boughs from surrounding areas, Dougherty coaxes, bends, and gently prods them into amazing oversize forms. This new work is a series of towering spirals, curling across an entire wall of the restaurant, supported by a grid system attached to the wall underneath. He’s worked on it for the past couple weeks with the help of three assistants–once it’s complete, it’s sure to enthrall diners and visitors alike.
Dougherty’s signature style came to him through what he has called a “stick conversion.” In a recent catalogue, Patrick Dougherty, Dougherty described his epiphany: driving along a country road, he came upon a grove of saplings and exclaimed, “I could use these!” He found that the saplings were both plentiful and renewable (by trimming saplings close to the ground and keeping the root undisturbed, the saplings can continue to grow back repeatedly). In his sculpture, Dougherty explores the material properties of the sticks—their inherent bend, give, and movement when they are still young and fresh—to create graceful curves and waves, manipulating them without causing breakage.
The naturalistic style of Dougherty’s work provides an interesting counterpoint to the interior of West Building. The new building, with its crisp, contemporary lines, is a perfect canvas for Dougherty’s swirling sticks, inspiring a dialogue between man and nature, indoor and outdoor, natural and artificial materials, and linear versus nonlinear. Seemingly at odds, viewers will find that these pairings are wonderfully symbiotic, each highlighting some of the best elements in the other.
The essence of Dougherty’s materials brings up a logical (and frequently-asked) question: how long will it last? Is it a permanent installation? The answer: yes! Though his outdoor installations are usually meant to last only as long as the twigs themselves—about two to three years on average—this installation is seen as a permanent one with an indefinite life span. “Mine is the art of the ephemeral,” he has said about his outdoor works; the creation for the restaurant, however, is meant to be enjoyed long-term and will enliven the space for years to come.
During the past two decades of his career, Dougherty has garnered international acclaim and has created nearly 200 large on-site temporary installations in 14 different countries, including Japan, Denmark and Austria. Viewers may recognize Dougherty’s style from a previous installation in the Museum Park called Trail Heads, constructed in 2005 (or from his work at the Nasher Museum of Art in Durham). For more information on his work, check out his website at: www.stickwork.net.